PUERTO PENASCO, Mexico – There are musicians who sing about beaches in Mexico and enjoying life in a fiesta atmosphere south of the border. And then there are artists who actually put their pesos where their lyrics are.
I’ve written about Puerto Peasco, Mexico – also known as Rocky Point – in the Deseret News before. And I’ve written about Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers on more than one occasion. Over the weekend, the two once again became one as RCPM traveled across the dusty Mexican border lands to their favorite Third World Cantina to deliver two nights of energetic rock-n-roll in one of the most unique and unforgettable concert experiences available.
For those who haven’t yet heard of Roger Clyne, first a quick history lesson: Clyne and drummer PH Naffah played in the seminal Tempe, Arizona-based band The Refreshments in the ’90s. The band is remembered most for the song “Banditos” and its chorus “Everybody knows that the world is full of stupid people,” as well as for writing the theme song for TV’s King of the Hill.
Fast forward to today, and Clyne, Naffah along with Peacemaker guitarist Jim Dalton and bassist Nick Scropos, have released six consecutive albums that have debuted in the top 10 on Billboard’s Internet Sales chart, the first independent band to ever accomplish that feat. Two of those albums, 1999’s Honky Tonk Union and 2004’s Americano!, debuted at #1.
For 12 years, sometimes twice a year, Clyne has been traveling to Rocky Point to deliver a four hour rock-n-roll show, typically on a beach near the Sea of Cortez. The band’s annual Circus Mexicus celebration – the Mecca of RCPM concerts – attracts thousands of fans from all over the world each June.
For the past five years, Clyne and the Peacemakers have made an extra trek to Rocky Point in January, playing at JJ’s Cantina, a long-time mainstay of the area nestled on the banks of Cholla Bay. The cantina’s back patio is a open area that overlooks the bay with a small stage set up in the corner. Each year – usually on the last Saturday of January – the show starts at sunset and goes late into the evening. With only a limited number of tickets sold to avoid overcrowding, for many fans it’s their favorite show of the year.
This year, Clyne added a first ever solo acoustic show on Friday at another local bar, Wrecked at the Reef. It was an evening of storytelling and music from the troubadour of the Southwest.
Clyne took on a theme of “The Life Aquatic,” from the 2004 Bill Murray movie for the weekend. Wearing a tuxedo, tennis shoes and a red knit cap, Clyne told stories about the time he unexpectedly found himself in the middle of a drug run on a beach in Mexico and when he and Naffah set out on a 40-day, 40-night journey after The Refreshments broke up to search for inspiration for their next project but only lasted 17 days because of the heat.
The extremely charismatic singer-songwriter provided a real treat for fans by diving deep into his catalog of songs, pulling out not-often-played gems like “Smaller and Better Things,” “Una Soda,” “The Ballad of Lupe Montosa” and “Summer #39.” Dalton joined Clyne on stage near the end for several songs including a cover of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.”
Although it was meant to be a sit down type of evening, many in the energized crowd were dancing in front of the stage by night’s end.
The atmosphere for the show was outstanding. For this show, the cap on ticket sales was even less than the Saturday night show, putting the demand for tickets at a premium. Several security guards and the keeper of the coveted tickets at Will Call reported being offered bribes of $100 and $150 by those without tickets trying to get in. All offers were politely rejected.
The owners at The Reef have put in a lot of work into renovating this cantina, and it showed.
In fact, after several years of being in a slump, thanks in part to the U.S.A.’s own economic downturn, the town of Rocky Point itself seemed to be on the rise with hotel projects that had been put on hold starting up again, new paved roads being built, and even power lines being buried.
The party continued Saturday at the traditional JJ’s venue. Despite early audio problems (including an arc that went from Dalton’s mic to his lip, giving him a good little shock), the band played over 3 1/2 hours of music from all stages of Clyne’s career, including his better known songs – many of which have roots in the land south of the border – like “Banditos,” “Down Together,” “Nada,” “Wanted,” “Girly”, “Americano” and “Counterlclockwise” as well as few songs that hadn’t been dusted off in awhile like “Tributary Otis,” “Buffalo,” “Little Hungover You” and “Never Thought.” RCPM also played a healthy selection of songs off the band’s latest release, Unida Cantina, with “Dinero,” “All Over the Radio,” “Heaven on a Paper Plate” and the not often played “Today Belongs to the Light.”
The traditionally heavy touring band was a tight outfit all night. Naffah was at the top of his game, and by some miracle didn’t break any drum heads despite the intensity with which he was pounding them Saturday night (though several broken sticks did end up on the dirt road over the wall behind him).
After the show, Clyne was in high spirits and was one of the last to leave the cantina, making sure he shook every hand from people wanting to say ‘hi.’ He then ordered one last margarita for the evening, and he and his wife, Alisa, walked back to their house, glowing in the success of the evening.
Roger Clyne in Mexico is always a trip worth making. On June 9th, he’ll return for the annual Circus Mexicus weekend, which includes two nights and one day of music and a beach soccer tournament among other activities. It’s a concert event that should not be missed.